Gujarat Chief Minister Anandiben Patel rushes to dam site to hold 'pooja' to commence construction work; 245 more villages to be submerged after height increase
Over 250,000 people in three states who were displaced by the Sardar Sarovar dam in Gujarat are yet to be resettled by the government. Nonetheless, the Central water resources ministry has granted clearance for raising the height of the dam by 16.76 metre.
Those displaced by the dam belong to Maharashtra, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh.
The meeting on Thursday for clearing project was chaired by secretary of ministry of water resources and attended by officials of Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited (SSNNL) and Narmada Control Authority (NCA) officials.
Tribals most impacted
NCA has approved the dam height increase from 121.92 metre to 138.68 metre, which will submerge 245 villages, mostly tribal ones, in the Narmada valley across three states of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat.
According to the director of SSNNL, J N Singh, the preparatory work on installation of gates will commence immediately, which is the first step towards increasing the height of the dam. “However, we are beginning the gate construction work only after monsoon in September 2014,” said Singh. The SSNNL director also informed that both the committees of NCA for relief and rehabilitation and environment have cleared the dam height increase.
Good days for whom?
As soon as the news broke on Thursday, Gujarat Chief Minister Anandiben Patel left Junagadh to reach the dam site. According to a source, a helipad was constructed close to the dam site to welcome the chief minister, so that she could perform a “pooja” to start the inauguration of the fresh construction work on the dam.
Patel, who is active on social media, used her Twitter handle to announce the decision: “Heartfelt gratitude from the people of Gujarat to Hon PM @narendramodi. The decision pending has come so swiftly. Achchhe din aa Gaye hain!!”.
This was quickly followed by another tweet: “At Junagadh right now for Shala Praveshotsav. Leaving for Narmada Dam site at Kevadia. Not a single day should be lost in resuming work.”
The estimated cost of dam project is Rs 392.4 billion. It is the second largest concrete gravity dam (by volume) after Grand Coulee in the United States of America and having world's third largest spillway discharging capacity, according to SSNNL. The designed live storage capacity of the reservoir is 5,860 million cubic metre. The dam has the installed capacity of generation of 1,450 MW hydropower.
Once the dam height is increased, it is claimed that it will provide irrigation water to 1.8 million hectares in Gujarat and benefit one million farmers. It will provide drinking water to 9,633 villages and 131 towns. The proposed canal network of the dam has approximately 80,000 km in length while the main canal of the dam, taking the water from the dam in South Gujarat up to Rajasthan, is 458.31 km long.
Who will assess dam safety?
SSNNL may have to order newer equipment as old equipment to construct the gate following the height increase have been lying at the dam site for years. Sources in SSNNL say that the using older equipment might have an impact on the dam safety. SSNNL officials say that the installing the gates would require approximately 36 months for completion. Further, minutes of the meetings held between SSNNL and Power Supply Group under the Ministry of Power, showed that until last year, the Dam Safety Panel was non-existent for the Sardar Sarovar dam.
Canal work incomplete
While the increase in the dam height would ensure the expansion of the command area for irrigation of the dam, 75 per cent of the canal work is yet to be completed, according to Gujarat government official. “We were waiting for the decision to come through. Now, we can start the construction of the rest of the canal network,” said the official. The Gujarat government has, meanwhile, denotified about 80,000 hectares (ha) of the 1.84 million ha that was to get irrigated by the Narmada canal, ostensibly to benefit industry.
Further, an answer to the Right to Information query showed that Jamin Adhikar Andolan, Gujarat, a movement against land acquisition by industries, revealed that till last heard, Gujarat state government had no account of about 50 per cent of water released from the main Narmada canal. According to the Gujarat Congress, only 15 per cent of the 80,000 km canal network was completed under then chief minister Narendra Modi’s rule.
Last year, during an Assembly session, the state government revealed that 484 km of branch canals and 2,818 km of sub-branch canals are incomplete. Also, 12,319 km of minor and 37,887 km of sub-minor canal works are incomplete.
Height increase questioned
According to Rohit Prajapati, an environmental activist based in Vadodara, who obtained information from SSNNL under RTI, “We have seen that Gujarat can get its full share of 9 million acre feet of water at current height and no height increase is necessary. Had Gujarat built the necessary canal distribution system with branch canals, distribution canals, minor, sub minor and field canals to fields in Kutch, Saurashtra and North Gujarat, it could have taken Narmada water to these regions even eight years ago.
The activist maintains that Gujarat and Rajasthan can get their share of water from Narmada river without this height increase and are not able to use even 20 per cent of the water already available to them at the current height. “This is clearly unnecessary, unjust and unwarranted decision that is not likely to have even legal sanction. Only additional benefit that increase in height can provide is about 10-20 per cent additional power generation, in which Gujarat’s share is only 16 per cent: 57 per cent share goes to Madhya Pradesh and 27 per cent share goes to Maharashtra,” said Prajapati.
Violation of apex court order?
In October 2000, in a case contested between Narmada Bachao Andolan and Government of India, the apex court ruled that that for any subsequent height increase, the relief and rehabilitation must commence side by side. However, for the last two years, relief and rehabilitation have been marred by various disputes between the displaced in Madhya Pradesh as well as Maharashtra.
Several families have alleged that the governments have not effectively given the promised compensation amount, with cases pending in courts of Madhya Pradesh.
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